First published in 1952, Witness came on the heels of
America’s trial of the century, in which Whittaker Chambers
accused Alger Hiss, a full-standing member of the political
establishment, of spying for the Soviet Union.
In this penetrating
philosophical memoir, Chambers recounts the famous
case as well as his own experiences as a Communist agent in
the United States, his later renunciation of Communism, and
his conversion to Christianity. Chambers’ worldview—“man without mysticism is a monster”—helped to make political conservatism a national force.
Witness packs the emotional
wallop and the literary power of a classic Russian novel and has gained Chambers recognition
by critics on both sides of the spectrum as a truly gifted writer.
Forewords by two prominent
conservative pundits bring the book into the modern era.
Softcover, 808 pages
Table of Contents
Witness and Friend: Remembering Whittaker Chambers
by William F. Buckley Jr.
A Masterpiece at Fifty
by Robert D. Novak
Foreword in the Form of a Letter to My Children
2. The Story of a Middle-Class Family
3. The Outrage an the Hope of the World
4. The Communist Party
5. Underground: The First Apparatus
6. The Child
7. Underground: The Second Apparatus
8. Colonel Boris Bykov
9. The Division Point
10. The Tranquil Years
11. The Hiss Case
12. The Bridge
13. The Hiss Case II
15. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Foreword In the Form of a Letter to My Children Beloved Children
I am sitting in the kitchen of the little house at Medfield,
our second farm which is cut off by the ridge and a quarter-mile across the
fields from our home place, where you are. I am writing a book. It it I am
speaking to you. But I am also speaking to the world. To both I owe an
It is a terrible book. It is terrible in what it tells about
men. If anything, it is more terrible in what it tells about the world in which
you live. It is about what the world calls the Hiss-Chambers Case, or even more
simply, the Hiss Case. It is about a spy case. All the props of an espionage
case are there—foreign agents, household traitors, stolen documents,
microfilm, futive meetings, secret hideaways, phony names, an informer,
investigations, trials, official justice.
But if the Hiss Case were only this, it would not be worth my
writing about or your reading about. It would be another fat folder in the sad
files of the police, another crime drama in which the props would be mistaken
for the play (as many people have consistently mistaken them). It would not be
what alone gave it meaning, what the mass of men and women instinctively sensed
it to be, often without quite knowing why. It would not be what, at the very
beginning, I was moved to call it: "a tragedy of history."
For it was more than human tragedy. Much more than Alger
Hiss or Whittaker Chambers was on trial in the trials of Alger Hiss. Two faiths
were on trial. Human societies, like human beings, live by faith and die when
faith dies. At issue in the Hiss Case was the question whether this sick
society, which we call Western civilization, could in its extremity still cast
up a man whose faith in it was so great that he would voluntarily abandon those
things which men hold good, including life, to defend it. At issue was the
question whether this man's faith could prevail against a man whose equal faith
it was that this society is sick beyond saving, and that mercy itself pleads
for its swift extinction and replacement by another. At issue was the question
whether, in the desperately divided society, there still remained the will to
recognize the issues in time to offset the immense rally of public power to
distort and pervert the facts.
At heart, the Great Case was this critical conflict of
faiths; that is why it was a great case. On a scale personal enough to be felt
by all, but big enough to be symbolic, the two irreconcilable faiths of our
time - Communism and Freedom - came to grips in the persons of two conscious
and resolute men. Indeed, it would have been had, in a world still only dimly
aware of what the conflict is about, to find two other men who knew so clearly.
Both had been schooled in the same view of history (the Marxist view). Both
were trained by the same party in the same selfless, semisoldierly discipline.
Neither would nor could yield without betraying, not himself, but his faith;
and the different character of these faiths was shown by the different conduct
of the two men toward each other throughout the struggle. For, with dark
certitude, both knew, almost from the beginning, that the Great Case could end
only in the destruction of one or both of the contending figures, just as the
history of our times (both men had beentaught) can end only in the destruction
of one or both of the contending forces.
But this destruction is not the tragedy. The nature of the
tragedy is itself misunderstood. Part of the world supposes that the tragedy in
the Hiss case lies in the acts of disloyalty revealed. Part believes that the
tragedy lies in the fact that an able, intelligent man, Alger Hiss, was cut
short in the course of a brilliant public career. Some find it tragic that
Whittaker Chambers, of his own will, gave up a $30,000-a-year job and a secure
future to haunt for the rest of his days the ruins of his life. These are
shocking facts, criminal facts, disturbing facts: they are not tragic.
Crime, violence, infamy are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when
a human soul awakens and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from
crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy—not defeat or death. That is why the spectacle of tragedy has always filled
men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation. That is why
this terrible book is also a book of hope. For it is about the struggle of the
human soul—of more than one human soul. It is in this sense that the Hiss
Case is a tragedy. This is its meaning beyond the headlines, the revelations,
the same and sufering of the people involved. But this tragedy will have been
for nothing unless men understand it rightly, and from it the world takes hope
and heart to begin its own tragic struggle with the evil that besets it from
within and from without, unless it faces the fact that the world, the whole
world, is sick unto death and that, among other things, this Case has turned a
finger of fierce light into the suddenly opened and reeking body of our time.
The Watershed of Modern Conservatism by abijah07 (BarnesandNoble.com)
A foundational historical document for understanding all that has transpired spiritually, politically, and intellectually in America during the 20th Century to today's news headlines. Above all else "Witness" brings clarity out of the deliberate, purposeful obfuscation of the Marxist liberals now holding the commanding heights of power in the federal government. Well written, it is nearly impossible to put down and has the authentic tension, drama, smell, and emotional color of one of the most dangerous periods of American history, second only to the destruction that the U.S.Constitution and the American Republic is currently suffering at hands of the very people about which Whittaker Chambers in his book, "Witness,"valiantly attempted to warn us.
Whittaker Chambers: Man of Courage and Faith
By Lee Edwards, Ph.D. April 2, 2011
The wave of publicity about Robert Hanssen, a veteran FBI agent
who became a master spy for the Russians, brings to mind a far different
man--Whittaker Chambers, a veteran Soviet spy who became, in William F. Buckley
Jr.'s words, "the most important American defector from Communism."
This April marks the 100th anniversary of Chambers' birth.
In August 1948, Chambers, an editor at Time, identified
Alger Hiss, a golden boy of the liberal establishment, as a fellow member of
his underground Communist cell in the 1930s. Hiss, a former assistant to the
Secretary of State and former General Secretary of the United Nations founding
conference at San Francisco, and then president of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, immediately denied Chambers' allegation.
A great deal more than the reputations of the two men was at
stake. If Hiss was innocent, anti-Communism--and the careers of those closely
associated with it, like Richard Nixon, a prominent member of the congressional
investigating committee--would be dealt a deadly blow. If Hiss was guilty,
anti-Communism would become a permanent part of the political landscape, and
its spokesmen would become national leaders.
It took two protracted trials (Hiss reluctantly sued
Chambers for slander), but Hiss was finally convicted of perjury for denying
his espionage activities and sentenced to five years in jail. Hiss went to his
grave more than 40 years later still protesting his innocence--and still lauded
by many on the Left. But the Venona transcripts of secret KGB and GRU messages
during World War II (released in the mid-1990s) confirmed that Alger Hiss had
been a Soviet spy not only in the 1930s, but at least until 1945.
In 1952, Chambers published his magisterial, best-selling
autobiography, Witness. The work argued that America faced a transcendent, not
a transitory, crisis; the crisis was one not of politics or economics but of
faith; and secular liberalism, the dominant "ism" of the day, was a
watered-down version of Communist ideology. The New Deal, Chambers insisted,
was not liberal democratic but "revolutionary" in its nature and
intentions. All these themes, especially that the crisis of the 20th century
was one of faith, resonated deeply with conservatives.
Among those who agreed with and often quoted Chambers'
uncompromising assessment was a future California governor and U.S.
President--Ronald Reagan. Indeed, Witness may have enlisted more American
anti-Communists than almost any other book of the Cold War. They included, in
addition to our 40th President, William A. Rusher, longtime publisher of
National Review; veteran journalist John Chamberlain, who worked with Chambers
at Time; and columnist-commentator Robert Novak.
The work continues to have a telling impact. At a Washington
dinner last November, retiring Senator Bob Kerrey admitted that reading Witness
had enabled him, for the first time in his life, to understand what Communism
was all about.
The book is not easy reading but is permeated with what Bill
Buckley called "Spenglerian gloom." Exhausted by the demands of the
two Hiss trials and in poor health (he had suffered several heart attacks),
Chambers believed that he was probably leaving the winning side but found
reason to keep fighting against Communism for his children. As he recounts in
Witness, he once surveyed, on a dark cold night at his Maryland farm, the
formidable forces arrayed against him--the powerful establishment, the hostile
press, the skeptical public, the calumnies of the Hiss partisans--and seriously considered suicide. But when his young son John came looking
for him crying, "Papa! Papa! Don't ever go away," he replied,
"No, no, I won't ever go away."
Chambers continued to make significant contributions to the
conservative movement until his death in July 1961. Publisher Henry Regnery
recalled that he sent page proofs of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind to
Chambers, who immediately urged the editor of Time to devote the entire book
section to a review of "one of the most important" books he had read
"in some time." Regnery never forgot his "sense of exultation"
when the long, laudatory Time review arrived.
Chambers was a close friend and mentor of Bill Buckley.
Invited to join National Review's masthead, he at first demurred, pessimistic
about its chances of success. But he was persuaded to come aboard by Buckley's
argument that "the culture of liberty deserves to survive" and to
have its own journal. One of Chambers' more memorable contributions to the
magazine was his evisceration of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He called its plot
"preposterous," its characterization "primitive," and much
of its effect "sophomoric." In a lifetime of reading, he concluded,
"I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so
implacably sustained." His review, "Big Sister Is Watching You,"
helped bar conservatism's door to Rand's godless technocratic ideas.
Chambers was also a private critic of Senator Joseph
McCarthy. He told Buckley that McCarthy was "a slugger and a
rabble-rouser" who "simply knows that somebody threw a tomato and the
general direction from which it came."
Chambers was "one of the great men of our time,"
wrote Henry Regnery, who had known many great men during his decades-long
publishing career. As a witness to God's grace and the fortifying power of
faith, Chambers "put all of us immeasurably in his debt." For countless
conservatives, Whittaker Chambers has never gone away.
Lee Edwards, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at The Heritage
Foundation and the author of several books, including The Conservative
Revolution: The Movement That Remade America.
Source: The Heritage Foundation